Thursday, December 16, 2010

Montreal lags behind other Canadian cities in accessible transit

From The Montreal Gazette:

The number of commuters rising the subways in Montreal and Toronto is almost the same: On an average weekday, about 1 million people use each system.

The number of stations is almost identical -68 here, 69 there. The two systems differ in disability access, however.

In Toronto, 29 stations are wheelchair-accessible, said Glenn Johnston, a senior transit accessibility planner at the Toronto Transit Commission. By 2025, he says, all TTC stations will be accessible, in accordance with Ontario law that requires all public services to be accessible by then.

Quebec legislation is less specific; a 2005 law says municipalities must aim to make the transit system accessible and submit accessibility plans "within a reasonable time frame."

In the 2007 expansion of the metro into Laval, the new stations were fully wheelchair-accessible, but of the older stations, only Lionel Groulx, Berri-UQAM and Henri Bourassa have elevators for wheelchair users.

Montreal's municipal government has come under pressure from wheelchair users who say making the rest of the system accessible could take a century.

The TTC has advice for any redevelopment the Societe de transport de Montreal may plan: Think long term.

"In 1989, there was a directive that all stations should be made accessible, and our program to make stations accessible will carry on to 2024," Johnston said.

He did not have figures on the cost of refitting a station, but Vancouver engineer Mark Minson, who was involved in the refitting of Vancouver's Granville SkyTrain station, said the cost could run from $10 million to $15 million. Both Montreal and Toronto have cited funding as obstacles to increased accessibility.

All 47 of Vancouver's Sky-Train stations are wheelchair accessible, BC Transit public information officer Drew Snider said, because they were built that way.

Decades-old buildings could complicate the process, Johnston warns.

"You're always getting little surprises, like utilities that are located at different locations than indicated, and other little things," he said.

Kevin Rogers is a Toronto transit rider who uses a wheelchair. "We are on the right track," he said. "Access gives a wheelchair user a lot more opportunities to do what you want when you want."

Rogers also recommends that swipe-card stations in the Montreal metro system be adapted for people with limited hand function.

"Involve wheelchair users as much as possible," he added. "If you don't consult with people who are going to use (an elevator) and it is built incorrectly, that's a huge cost."

Nick Molendyk, a wheelchair user in Vancouver, noted: "The closer you can place the elevator to where people get off (the train), the better.

"Nothing's more frustrating than to have something built for you and have your opinions not heard."